And my word for 2017 is…

She poured the bubbling acid, waited for just the right moment, then scraped and scraped and scraped. It was a laborious process, requiring much patience and precise depth. We groaned at another piece of old, musty furniture that did not look worth salvaging. Yet, she saw beyond the layers of paint and deep gouges to the beauty of that turn of the century bird’s eye maple grain, stained a warm, inviting blond.

My mom saw it restored, envisioning something the rest of us simply could not see.

Restore.

That is my word for 2017.

After 2016 began by burying my last remaining parent and ended with a brutal, unjustifiable 2 months of unemployment for my husband, I look towards the beauty of what will be.

2017 will hold its own heartaches- this, life has taught me with certainty. Yet, the restoration I envision is no wishful thinking or wearing of rose-colored glasses finish.

Instead, with great deliberation, I will strive to find purpose in the layers of pain, broken expectations, loss. In the gouges, I will behold the grand details of life’s intricacies and the redeeming qualities of the blemishes.

Restoration is: reclamation of something lost, a bringing back to full capacity, a revitalization of original beauty. It takes seeing beyond what is on the surface. It takes hoping for a future promised. It takes valuing the painful moments alongside the exquisite ones.

It is a laborious process at times, but one so worth the effort. I will hope. I will imagine what’s underneath. I will endeavor to renovate the ugliness. I will have faith in God’s renewal. I will anticipate the loveliness of a salvage completed.

Here’s to a restored 2017!

1 Peter 5:10

“And the God of all grace… will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Lil’ bit gypsy, nun, feminist

Well, that’s an odd combination, you say. True. I am pretty odd :).

I thought it would be fun to expound a bit on my weird self. Not in a narcissistic kind of way, but in a relatable kind of way. Because like I like to say, we are not so very different after all.

I grew up in two houses and only one I actually remember. My parents built their country dream home and we moved in when I was six years old. It was idyllic- close enough to LA to enjoy the good stuff like cool LA beaches, yet far enough from the gangs and graffiti that I was cushioned from the urban decay.

Constant– it’s the word I use to describe my childhood. Dad works at the same job for 30 years, I live in the same town (until I marry at 19, GULP), mom stays home and is there every day to take care of everything.

Fast forward 25 years. I have moved 13 times, once moving out of and back into the same house. The reasons are vast, varied and would take a volume in itself to tell. But THIS is why I am a lil’ bit gypsy. God thought it was a good idea to s t r e –  t   c   h me, to take my rigid, constant world and turn it upside down. While it isn’t ideal (and it’s really sucked for our kids somewhat), it has made me who I am today- a much more flexible person, able to appreciate and love all the friends I’ve made, and not a lover of “stuff”. (You do a lot of purging when you move this much!)

A lil’ bit nun– that’s an easy one. Remember that I said I grew up “cushioned”? One rule was NO MOVIES at the theater. Why? Because movie theaters are evil, don’t you know… I also double pierced my ears on my honeymoon because, don’t you know, I would have been kicked out for doing it while living under my parent’s roof. Definitely, no two piece bathing suits! Yeah, we went kind of heavy on the rules at my house.

Dirty secret- I’ve never owned or worn a bikini. I go to the beach in shorts and a tank top. And just in case you’re all feeling sorry for my daughter, she owns and wears a bikini. I’m just not into the whole body bearing in public scene and I feel very strongly that this is sadly one of the ways that females unknowingly exploit themselves. (But that is a post for another day and obviously, I have very solid rationale for it.)

A lil’ bit feminist because I spent far too many years with my head wrapped up in the doctrines of MEN who like to write books about being the head of the home (while making the woman the tail) and being king of the castle (while making the woman his vassal, instead of his queen).

It took me way too long to understand my value and see myself as equal, just with a different and unique role. The deprecation and devaluing of women the world over breaks my heart and angers me. If I can bear and nurture a child, without which the world would cease to exist, I am invaluable. My ideas are not inferior, just feminine. My body is not weaker, just feminine.

My husband and I are both strong, type A personalities and trust me, we have had to WORK REALLY HARD to compromise and be cohesive and not step all over each other. But it’s beautifully worth it.

So, there, nothing like a complicated mess who ambles through life with a bit of baggage. (Don’t we all?) But it is this very stuff that has woven the complicated pattern of who I am today and what makes me tick as a person. To use the cliché’: God isn’t finished with me yet and he won’t be until my last breath is drawn.

If you had to use only 3 words to define yourself, what would they be?

 

Just your average tableware

I really want to be fine china- the kind you have to put on a bridal registry and wealthy relatives can only afford a couple place settings or the kind you have to hand wash because of the exquisite gold rim.

Instead, I’m pretty certain I’ll be your average, every day tableware. Dishwasher and microwave safe too.

To find out how this terrible mistake happened, let’s rewind a bit.

The wheel spun in front of me with a low murmur. Having mastered (or so I thought), just the right amount of pressure, the clay inched slowly up the wheel. Too much pressure and a hole would have punctured, too little and the clay would slump down in unattractive blobs. Patience and precision brought the smooth glistening texture and shape I was hoping for. Something extraordinary and valuable was being fashioned, to my great satisfaction.

Or so I thought.

I can’t say exactly when or how, but my wheel came to a screeching halt. Who was I fooling? It wasn’t me sitting there to begin with.

I WAS the lump of cold, malleable clay- moist and earthy.

There was someone at the wheel though. Not just any old potter, but a Master- one so skilled, that no piece He crafts has ever been discarded. With hands of perfect precision, He applies pressure, molding the clay into shape.

Depending on the day, the design changes. There are days when the wheel’s friction causes an uncomfortable heat. Sometimes it’s a slow, steady spin. No matter what, the Master never leaves. Ever. His presence is constant. His touch is purposeful. His plan for the finished product? Common tableware.

And me? That ugly lump of clay? I acquiesce to being worked on, always trying to stay formable and susceptible to the Master’s touch. Some days though I am, honestly pretty sick of it. Can he just hurry up and be done already?

Until completion, I strive to rest and trust for however long this process endures. This is no easy task for a control freak like me. But I can say with confidence: fine china is not happening.

pottery *Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26167782@N06/7959118388

 

 

 

 

Life is Like an Unfinished Painting

I used to dabble in art, but if I was being honest, I probably got less than 5% of any artistic genetics (okay maybe more like 2%).

Yesterday, my son went to one of those “learn to paint in an afternoon” places. His entire class painted the same scene (Does this seem healthy for an 8th grader’s self-esteem?) and let me tell you, the results were stunning- in good and bad ways. Clearly, art is one of those things – you either “have it” or you don’t.

Seeing this masterpiece my son painted reminded me that I have not done a “Life is like…” post in awhile. So, you guessed it: Life is like an unfinished painting. Unfinished because we never to get see the end result so to speak.

I do know just a tad about painting. You have brushes, oil paints, an easel, a smock (what a weird word), oh and a canvas- a pristine, vibrant white canvas. That is how we start out in this world.

Then little by little color is added, shapes appear. Different brushes are used to create smaller or larger swaths of color. The brushstrokes begin to fade and the beginnings of a picture emerge.

Sometimes the mood is foreboding, the dusky shadows are added- black, grey or brown, then softer hues add a splash of highlight- a brilliance that wasn’t present before comes alive.

Each person we interact with paints using their own technique upon our canvas, some for beauty, (hopefully most), and some for distastefulness.

The choices we make and roads we amble down add a depth and texture, like when the thickness of the paint comes off the canvas in dimensions.

God paints whether you think He does or not. As divine creator He has a picture planned from eternity past- and His brushstrokes are transcendent but not always good, seemingly. He sees the finished work unlike anyone else does.

With time, the picture looks like something. Layer upon layer the colors mingle and definitive lines resemble what it was meant to be. Everyone a distinct picture. No two alike.

In different lighting, it can take on a new perspective, as does the distance one stands from the canvas.

And it goes on like that until, the very last inhale and exhale of life. Then our canvas is filled and only those who live on after us see the final product.

Let us strive for a masterpiece, a legacy for those who gaze upon it, a picture worth admiration and emulation.

Tempest Quieted

Tranquil. A calm quiet envelops me. I wish I could be here forever, my heartbeat pulsing in my ears, my shoulder muscles totally slack, my breath counted in seconds, in, out, in, out, in, out.

Then, abruptly, a gust whips violently through my mind. In that second, all peace shatters, calm displaced like sand beneath a wave. An unpleasant memory, a constant worry, a fear creeps in, disperses, then prevails.

Noisy thunder clatters, a deafening muted hum resonates in my ears. All pleasant sounds are drowned out by the cacophony of this present concern. My own voice of reason is silenced.

Turmoil. The rain comes, heavy and cutting, its weight overwhelming my heart and stinging my skin. My insides are churning and heaving as if I’d just stepped off a cheap fair ride.

This storm comes without warning, without invitation, even without certain cognition. Wreaking havoc and leaving a trial of destruction, this tempest bears down. I’m undone under its influence. Drenched with “what ifs…” Submerged in its foreboding temptations, battered by its forceful anxiety.

All this and no one ever sees. No one feels a single gust, hears one clap of thunder or feels the driving rain, just me, deep down inside my heart and soul. But on the outside, all is well. That is how this tempest operates.

Then I remember these words: Peace. Be still. Spoken many centuries ago by a Man who experienced the worst possible storm ever.

I speak them to myself, like a mantra, over the splintering fright, over the soul-wrenching anguish.

They are no magical incantation. They do not even bring an immediate end to the storm. Their power simply over takes and assuages. I’m brought back to trust and faith, remembering the goodness and protection that has carried me many times before.

Renewed. The storm subsides. My soul is hushed. For now.

Marked

I thought it was morbidly weird- ashen crosses on foreheads. My thought process was something like: Must we? That is what makes the world think the Christian religion is a bit freaky; so many outwards signs, symbols and rituals. And this… it’s just so sad looking.

We all wear scars, marks if you will. Some are visible, some invisible.

Maybe it’s a scar from a surgery or the marks from birthing children. Perhaps our mark is an intentional one like a tattoo with meaning behind it. Or the scar could have a darker purpose, like an attempted suicide or cutting.

Whatever the case, these are reminders, either for good or bad.

Likewise, the ashen cross marks us, reminds us, prepares us. The symbol of the cross reminds us that we are in need of saving and Someone has already done that. It reminds us that we are still carrying that mark invisibly in our souls everyday because we belong to Another. It prepares us for one of the greatest events in human history- the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The 40 days of going without serve a somber purpose, but with the happiest of all endings- the reason we rejoice in our present salvation and have a future hope.

The cross is the beginning, but the empty grave is the end!

As we embark on the journey of Lent, it is with purpose and deliberation; a time of reflection and ardent pursuit of the greatest love ever given.

I am a soul forever marked.

In the Ashes

I’m sitting in the ashes.

The grey char has dirtied my clothing and skin but I don’t care. I am content to be here. It’s my season.

We often fear the ashes. They feel unclean and our society balks against dirtiness. They leave indelible stains and we are all about removing those. Their particles permeate the air and our lungs must have only pure oxygen.

Now I sit, sometimes in silence, but only silence on the outside. Inside, there are scenes playing in rapid fire succession. Poignant moments. Warmth of embraces. Snippets of conversations. Compliments. Rebukes. Twinkling eyes. Silly jokes. Dinners, coffees, donuts. Hundreds of thousands of moments. Sweet but aching all at once.

Sometimes the ash is mingled with tears- copious amounts of them; tears of anger mixed with expletives like f**k cancer and “why don’t I have parents” questions. Then drops of anguish or fear come splashing out, fear of my own mortality (will I get cancer too?) and anguish- the crushing kind where your chest feels heavy from a broken heart.

I get up and walk away from the ashes because I have to. Life goes on around me- homework, work, bills, dinners, grocery shopping. Then I go back, not because I have to, but because I want to. It’s my season and it will soon be a distant memory, not forgotten, just moved past.

I am not afraid here. These ashes are a reminder- a sobering one- that life is like a mist but there is an eternity that awaits us; that a life lost is not a life forgotten. As the soot cannot be easily removed from anything it touches, so grief stains our entire being in a somber grey. But I will rise from the ashes a better person.

Undaunted

 

IMG_9589

I was dizzy. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me back from the edge.

“Becky,” they called, “You cannot jump. Who knows what dangers are down there at the bottom? It isn’t safe.”

So I heeded their voices. I strove to fit inside their tidy boundaries for me. Don’t do this. Do this. And for the love of all that is sane and reasonable, do not take risks. People pleasing had always been an art of mine and so I crafted a careful life, safe from all the unknowns. I was afraid of heights anyways.

Somewhere in my late twenties, married, with 2 kids (and one on the way), I began to seek a precipice. For all the years of obedience had left me wondering: “Could there be more than this flat land existence? Is there a place where I can be me, not always bowing to the confines of someone else?” I longed for it, for freedom from the suffocating rules pressing against me. There had to be a way that I could step off of the ledge and not die.

The longing grew stronger, yet inside me there were always voices, warning me, cajoling me not to want it. In the next decade, I started to see the beauty of grace, the treasure of the cross, my salvation full and free, without regard to any rule following on my part. Those things chaffed against the neat list of expectations I had made for myself: the submissive wife, the godly mother, the dutiful daughter. Conversely, I knew the façade of safety was just that. All the flat land existence was eating me up inside. Gloomy clouds of depression suffocated me.

For the first time ever, I slowly taught myself to stop heeding the voices telling me to not seek the cliff. I began shedding those like layers of skin, each one more painful than before. The better I understood the simple message of the gospel, to believe and be free, to live for Jesus because He died for me, to embrace HIS expectations for my life knowing they come without strings attached, the closer I inched to the edge.

When the clouds of gloom were lifted, I saw that my feet were closer than ever to the rim of the canyon and I looked down into the vastness, its beauty captivating. I stopped reading the “how to” books. I stopped making my husband my god, instead putting purposeful and deliberate distance so that I could be me and he could be himself, all the while loving him deeper than ever.

There was one final rock I was about to stumble on; a rock of momentous proportions on which I would not just stumble, but fall entirely: parenting an adult child who chose a path of life I never could have imagined. Only then did I realize that the very thing I hated, all the man made parameters that had constantly kept ME away from the edge, I had built those very things around my kids to a lesser degree. Deconstructing them took time but as I did, the view became clearer and the canyon beckoned me to come.

Unshackled, I ambled to the edge. There was no fear. I was finally ready, confident,  my arms outstretched and breath bated out of sheer thrill of what was to come. I felt dizzy, light, unencumbered and yet, I felt wrapped in a security I could never contrive myself. This was the arms of my Savior that held me, close to His heart, warmly, gently, and safely. I was enveloped in His love and this assured me of a landing without harm.

I could feel the breeze blowing up from below and I began to totter. Before I could acquiesce to any shred of doubt, my feet left the edge. Air that I had never breathed before filled my lungs and I was in a freefall, sure this was not the last time I would fly.

Mud Pies

Contentment is one of those virtues that we often talk about and hardly truly attain. It’s generally the idea: “ok, I’ll just live with  fill in the blank .” This is more of a spirit of acquiescence than anything.

Contentment is often sought after in want. What if, we would not be content with mediocrity?  What if, we are not satisfied until we ask for more of God’s grace and goodness, instead of a lukewarm, paltry request? What if we are discontent with the status quo faith when we have the power of the true and living God of the universe accessible to us? Or perhaps we don’t know Him yet and we are living life seeking total fulfillment from all this world has to offer.

We often relegate ourselves to far less than is within our grasp.

CS Lewis says it best in his book, Weight of Glory:

 “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. “

We are content with making mud pies when we could go to the magnificent ocean and play in the infinite sands! We are content with being clothed in rags, instead of wearing the royal robes as child of the King.

A prayer I read this morning sums it up beautifully:

I go into a far country,

And come home a prodigal, saying “Father, forgive me”.

And yet, God is always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,

Every evening let me return in it.

Let me go out to a day’s work in it,

Be married in it,

Be wound in death in it,

Enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me to never lose sight of the:

Exceeding righteousness of salvation,

Exceeding glory of Christ,

Exceeding beauty of holiness,

Exceeding wonder of grace.

Let us not be far too easily pleased!

mud pies

You call it a crutch. I call it a bastion.

Way back in the day, I had a cassette tape of a Christian artist named Steve Taylor. His song said: “You say faith is a crutch for a mind that’s closed. You guzzle your crutch and shove it up your nose.”

Clearly as a kid, I had no idea what that meant. Now that I DO understand, it’s a skewed exaggeration to compare religion to abusing substances.

But I’ve been stuck on this point the past few weeks: What DOES it mean to depend on religion (or more specifically, God)? Does it show total weakness of character or even an unhealthy dependence? I mean, after all, these ideas seem to mimic the nature of a substance abuser.

Our American existence is rife with a varietal of the expression: believe in yourself.

Stop the tape. Just so you know: I believe in believing in myself. I believe in women having a strong voice. I believe in cultivating a healthy self-respect. I also believe in self-advocating.

Conversely, I have a deep and abiding faith in Someone besides me: God. This is no oxymoron.

Hear me out. Back to the original line about faith being a crutch. The irony is that a crutch is truly a useful, helpful object; something used to aid in the healing process and lend support in a season of physical weakness. A crutch, though rather inconvenient and cumbersome, is necessary. To depend on it is wise, prudent and trusting.

The hard truth is, we are weak, mortal beings with a deep need for believing in someone beside ourselves. We are born with an innate sense of dependence, then we begin to eschew this sometime around puberty. That is the essence of faith: knowing and accepting the limitations of myself and placing my hope of fulfillment completely on One who is all the things I can never be: perfect, immortal, transcendent, to name a few.

My faith is no crutch or cage. My faith is my bastion, my refuge, what buoys me when life brings me low, my solace, peace, and strength. I am not confined by it. I am defined by it. I am not beholden to it like an addict to a drug. I am upheld by it. I am not shrouded in it, to the point of losing my very self. I am sheltered by it like a chick under the wing of its mother.

For this, I am humble and grateful and stronger and empowered to live life to the fullest.